The Thompson-Nicola Regional District (TNRD) was once again debating people living in RVs, this time involving a complaint in 70 Mile House, at their regular meeting on May 14. The issue was previously discussed following pushback on the RV bylaw in the second half of 2019.
In the case in question, the TNRD received a complaint about illegal occupation on private property. Upon notice from the TNRD, the property owner acknowledged that a friend was sleeping in the RV. The situation was brought about by pending homelessness after being unable to find affordable housing in his price bracket. The property owner noted it was a “friendship agreement” in order to make sure the occupant wasn’t part of the homeless problem.
Three solutions presented by the TNRD to the property owner, Catharine McMahon, were the occupant moving out, moving into the home on the property (with the property owner), or applying for a Temporary Use Permit, adjudicated by the Board of Directors, to enable the RV to be used as a dwelling for up to three years.
McMahon, in a letter, reiterated that due to financial difficulties, the occupant moving elsewhere was not an option.
Having the occupant move into the house would require work to fix up the house, the letter noted. As for a Temporary Use Permit, the letter noted there is a $1,500 fee attached. The letter further added that there is no bathroom facility in the RV, so environmental safety “is not a concern in this situation.”
“I have no intention of kicking my friend out of the only home he has, I cannot currently afford to remodel my home to make space for him to move into and I have no ability to waste $1,500 on a TUP so that you can turn it down, if I had $1,500 I would start to fix up my house. At this time when we are asked to stay home and physical distance from people outside of our circle, I feel it would be the worst possible time to move forward on any action.”
Area “P” director Mel Rothenburger said that it didn’t seem reasonable to suggest the RV occupant move in with the property owner at a time where people are advised to stay apart. He asked if it would be possible to delay any enforcement.
Chair Ken Gillis replied that there’s no appetite to make deferral an official position, adding that at the moment there are no plans to send anyone with badges and guns out to enforce the bylaw immediately.
“It might be a good time to let sleeping dogs lie, but I doubt very much that staff would be keen on having an official hands-off policy.”
Area “E” (which includes 70 Mile) director Sally Watson said that the fee for the Temporary Use Permit was part of the issue.
“The TUP application would cost $1,500 with no guarantee of approval. These people are on very, very tight fixed incomes.”
In total, the TNRD has received four Temporary Use Permit applications, and all have been approved, according to Development Services Director Regina Sadilkova.
There’s currently no avenue in the bylaw to allow for the reduction or waiving of the fee on a case by case basis, though there were some concessions for victims of the wildfires, she said, adding there is no grant-in-aid program.
“I am aware of a few cases in the history of the TNRD where an EA director has used their discretionary fund to pay for an application but in that case, I would say there is a possibility fo a conflict,” said Sadlikova. “For example, if a director was friends with other folks and wanted to help a group or an individual, I would think that they’d have to excuse themselves from the deliberation.”
Of the $1,500 fee, $1,200 is paid to a newspaper for an ad, so there is no cost recovery and it’s already highly subsidized as it is, says Sadilkova.
Some other jurisdictions that do operate on a cost-recovery basis charge as much as $25,000, she notes.
She added that the TNRD has been receiving more complaints about people living in RVs since the start of COVID-19, noting that the people they received complaints about had been living in their RVs for a year or more.
Barriere Mayor Ward Stamer said they have broader issues to discuss with respect to RVs, suggesting that staff proceed with what’s on the books currently, knowing that they’re probably not going to enforce it.
“I’d like to be able to suggest that we have another opportunity to be able to discuss all these kinds of implications.”
Sun Peaks Mayor Al Raine went along with Stamer, adding that they should look at some sort of hardship exception if the fee is the issue that’s getting in the way with some tight rules.
The board voted for staff to continue to follow board policy, which means staff will go forward with negotiating compliance, according to Sadilkova. Rothenburger and Watson voted against it, as did Area “A” director Carol Schaffer, Clearwater Mayor Merlin Blackwell, Area “I” director Steven Rice, and Clinton Mayor Susan Swan.
Gillis added that it leaves the door to enforcement open. “I don’t imagine for a moment that we’ve heard the last of the RV issue no matter what we decide with respect to this recommendation.”